Baking for better daysJun 20, 2017
Shanta Maya and Santosh Gurung, who had been among those displaced by a massive landslide that hit Ghandruk 10 years ago, have bounced back from the disaster to peddle fresh baked goods to locals and nearby businesses, thanks in part to support from the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre
In the summer of 2007, a massive landslide tore through the hamlet of Chane in the village Ghandruk in Kaski district in western Nepal. It was caused by heavy rains that had pounded the hillside settlements in August that year.
Although the landslide occurred at around 9 pm, dozens of villagers managed to flee to safer places. The next morning, they found that cracks had appeared in their farms. Altogether more than 30 people from six households were displaced by the landslide. Debris and mud flowed for several years, forcing the villagers to build a temporary trail down the site.
The family of Shanta Maya Gurung—including her husband Santosh, their children and Santosh’s elderly parents—was among those displaced by the natural disaster. They fled their homes and lived in rented rooms for several years.
Now, trees have grown there, and people walk oblivious to the disaster, giving some degree of assurance to the hundreds of trekkers who walk through the rocky mountain trail. But signs of devastation still remain in the form of the boulders brought down by the landslide.
Life for Shanta Maya and her family of five, who eked out their living as subsistence farmers, became harder. A year after the landslide, she sought employment abroad. In 2008, Shanta Maya moved to Hong Kong to work, and hopped from one odd job to another—dishwasher, babysitter and domestic help—earning between Rs. 30,000 and 50,000 a month.
But being far away from her eight-year old son and cleaning the tables of a Chinese restaurant on the 20th floor of the skyscraper wasn’t the kind of life she had dreamed of for herself. So in 2011, she returned home for good.
The big question that lingered was: Will she again work the field, growing millet and maize, and be content with harvesting the meager yield?
Only few yards down her two-storied mud and stone house, hundreds of trekkers passed through the mountain trail.
The village had already been electrified by the Chane Khola Micro Hydro Power, which came into operation in 2011. While the people’s basic power needs were met by the 30-kilowatt plant, its potential for supporting livelihoods had yet to be explored.
Enter the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), which has been actively supporting productive energy use since July 2014 by providing financial assistance to small businesses for marginalized and disadvantaged communities across the country.
In March, 2015, the AEPC carried out business opportunity assessment in Ghandruk. A meeting of the users’ committee for the Chane Khola Micro Hydro Power was called in Ghandruk, with roughly 50 participants. That day, Shanta Maya proposed to open a bakery targeting the eateries serving breakfast to trekkers. Shanta Maya had seen that the German Bakery, which was higher up in the small town with tea houses, had been doing brisk business.
Once her idea for investment received a green signal, Shanta Maya’s husband, Santosh, who used to drive a taxi in the road connecting the village with Pokhara, quit it to support his wife.
The AEPC provided a subsidy of Rs. 69,480 for the purchase of equipment. The Gurung couple invested more than Rs. 300,000 on the equipment as well as constructing a corrugated tin roofed hut along the trail.
The Sanjog Bakery—named after the couple’s only child, 13-year-old Sanjog—is perched on a steep hill on the trekking trail. On a recent afternoon, Shanta Maya and Santosh descended the steep trail from their home and arrived at the shop as the Chane Khola, swollen with monsoon rains, raced by in a rush to meet the Modi Khola, the region’s biggest river.
“I never thought that I would set up this business here along the trail. But now we have come to realize how important a decision this was. And, it is helping us pay our bills; we now fully rely on it,” she says adding that the business is helping her pay a monthly fee of Rs. 15,000 for her son’s studies at an English medium school in Pokhara.
While the odd trekker might buy a cake or bread from the shop, most of the customers include tea houses and restaurants along the trail. In peak season—during autumn and spring when trekkers arrive to take advantage of mild weather—Shanta Maya makes up to Rs. 5,000 a day.
Every week, Santosh buys the ingredients—flour, milk powder, eggs, sugar, flavors, colors and yeast—from Pokhara. During the day, when the load for the micro hydropower plant is relatively reduced, Shanta Maya’s work begins. She starts by placing flour in the mixer, adding condiments and ingredients before pouring water into it, and the dough is slowly formed. In the meantime, she turns on the oven and applies oil to the surface of a tray. She slices the dough, making small balls and kneading them. She transfers these balls to the tray and places it inside the oven.
Since she opened the bakery, Shanta Maya has received a number training. She attended, for instance, a week-long training in Pokhara on bakery organized by the AEPC. She also honed her production skills through a 10-day training in Kushma, the headquarters of neighboring Parbat.
Still, she feels there’s more to be done. “I want to learn more about this. I want to make dry cakes so that the items will not go waste so soon,” she says. Even local people, not used to having fresh bakery items, are turning out as customers. Her neighbors’ children carry cakes and buns for their midday meal at school, she says.
As the business has grown, so have the Gurung couple’s ambitions. Santosh says they want to buy a machine that slices bread—which would cost one lakh rupees. If they buy it, he reckons, Shanta Maya wouldn’t have to juggle too many things in her tiny kitchen. “The machine will lessen her burden,” says Santosh, who supports his wife in the production.
There are other plans. A road which slices through their farm land has been under construction for the last two years. Once it is completed, the couple wants to construct a building so that they have a bigger space to produce baked goods. “I earned good money when I drove the taxi, but it was very stressful. I had to wait for several hours for passengers and the vehicle needed constant repairs,” says Santosh. “Above all, I was away from my family. Now, I can help my wife and we get to spend a lot of time together. This is really good.”
The AEPC, under the Ministry of Population and Environment, is supported by UNDP through the Renewable Energy for Rural Livelihood (RERL) project--a joint undertaking of the Government of Nepal, UNDP and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). The programme seeks to increase equitable access to energy services, with a focus on enhancing rural livelihoods.